Kerala has been enjoying the spicy and flavoursome shawarma, the popular Middle Eastern street food, for almost 25 years. Though the delicious dish was originated in Lebanon, its flavours travelled to all over the globe through the Arab merchants and immigrants. The Arabic word shawarma was borrowed from Turkish 'cevirme' which means 'turning.'
It was the Lebanese travellers and merchants who took shawarma to countries like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iraq. In the beginning of the 20th century, shawarma travelled to Pakistan and Europe.
The Lebanese immigrants made the dish popular in Mexico, the country which celebrates food and cuisine. Food experts say that shawarma is one of the most costly street foods in the Canadian cities of Ottawa and Montreal. In 1970, shawarma stalls were opened at the Piccadilly Circus, and Britain fell in love with this spicy meat dish.
In the beginning, the Turks, Syrians, and Lebanese were the masters of shawarma making in the Middle Eastern countries. However, since the Keralites began to migrate to the gulf countries in huge numbers, we began to own some of the most popular shawarma stalls there. It was at Malappuram where a hot roll of tasty shawarma was served for the first time in Kerala.
Thinly sliced meat is slowly roasted on a rotating rotisserie to prepare shawarma. A tomato and an onion too are placed on the vertical rotisseries so that the flavours of that too are absorbed by the meat slices. The motorized spit turns, roasting the outer layer of the meat. Meat is then shaved of the stack using a long, sharp knife.
The rotisserie meat which falls on the vessel beneath the spit is then mixed with shredded cabbage, chopped carrot and diced tomatoes. This mixture is finely chopped again with the long knife. On a kuboos (Arabic pita bread), some garlic sauce is spread and the meat – vegetable mixture is added, and rolled into a delicious shawarma.
Poison which kills
Though incredibly tasty, shawarma also has the reputation of causing severe health problems, which could even turn fatal. Medical practitioners warn that the botulinum toxin contained in shawarma can lead to death. While preparing the dish, half cooked meat is cooled down and then heated again. The meat doesn't cook thoroughly when it is repeatedly cooled down and heated up. Thus clostridium bacteria are formed in the meat slices, and this would further lead to the formation of botulinum toxin.
However, these bacteria cannot survive the high temperature in which the meat is roasted on a shawarma pit. Shawarma becomes poisonous and dangerous when the meat is not cooked properly in the right way. Besides, the mayonnaise prepared with sunflower oil, lemon juice and egg whites are often kept in the open. Street foods like this are generally prepared outside the shops to attract customers. Food Safety Department has issued strict directives about preparing shawarma in hygienic environment.
Here is an easy recipe to make tasty and healthy shawarma at home.